All posts by Graeme

I Can Twist All Scripture

James McGrath, writing on Patheos Blog on 3 Feb 2019, makes the following excellent points about how we have conceded the “Bible believing” label to literalists, fundamentalists and the bad type of evangelicals, all of whom badly abuse the Bible and regularly use cherry-picked Bible verses out of context. We need to call them out for what they are: the are not Bible-believers, they are Bible-abusers.

The Zondervan Academic blog explains the significance of words of Paul that are often taken out of context:

Just before Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” he recounts some of the different circumstances he’s found himself in: he’s been hungry and well-fed, he’s been in need and he’s been well off, and he’s learned to be content, no matter what his circumstances are.

Paul isn’t juxtaposing these circumstances to suggest that one is better than the other. He’s using these extremes to highlight that he understands the range of human experience, and that he understands the challenges that come with each position. He isn’t a rich person telling a poor person to be happy with what they have (or vise versa), and he’s not sitting there on a full stomach telling hungry people to get over it.

He’s saying that no matter what your circumstances are, you can learn to be content. How does he know? Because he’s tested it, and he’s proved it. How does he do it? That’s where verse 13 comes in.

If you read the NIV translation of verse 13, you’ll notice an important distinction from most other translations:

“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (emphasis added).

When we read “this” instead of “things,” it’s a lot more clear that the passage is referring to specific things—all the things Paul has been talking about—not “all things” in the sense that we can do anything.

… This verse is so incredibly popular in its distorted form in Christian fundamentalist circles, appearing on mugs and bumper stickers and t-shirts. It illustrates why I think it so important to not allow fundamentalist claims to be “Bible-believing Christians” to go unchallenged or be accepted at face value. They have a viewpoint adorned with biblical language taken out of its context, which is used sometimes to construct and sometimes merely to decorate their worldview which is in no sense simply that of any of the biblical authors, much less of all of them (as though they all agreed). Perhaps focusing in on this one example can help make that point. It is an important one, because unless challenged, what is said in the meme below often proves to be true: Christian fundamentalists can do all (kinds of) things through verses taken out of context.

Source: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2019/02/i-can-twist-all-scripture.html

Living the Truth in an Age of Lies

The Patheos blog posted an excellent article on gaslighting and how to deal with it. “Gaslighting” is a particular strategy of liars, who try and get you to question yourself and the truth. This article references Donald Trump, but I am also experiencing a lot of this in South Africa, with apartheid revisionists. These are people trying to get us to change our view of apartheid and say it wasn’t so bad – they’re doing this so as to not deal with racism’s legacy or acknowledge white guilt.

The full article is available here, or an excerpt below:

Gaslighting in the Age of Trump: 6 Tips for Survival

by Leah D. Schade, on July 30, 2018.

When the president’s lies destroy the very concept of truth and reality for a nation, we must resist the gaslighting and practice radical integrity.

It’s been 556 days since Donald Trump put his hand on a Bible and promised that he would “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since then, that oath has been broken and the 8th Commandment violated. From the beginning, he asserted outright lies as truth, along with his press secretary and surrogates. For example, when the world could see in real-time the size of the crowd gathered for the inauguration and contrast that to pictures of a much larger crowd for Obama’s inauguration, we could obviously tell the difference. Yet they disputed reality right in front of our eyes, asserting “alternative facts.”

Since then, the Washington Post has counted over 3000 false or misleading claims made by the president as of May 2018, averaging 6 – 9 per day.

COMMENT FROM GRAEME: For the first time since taking office, the Washington Post fact checker has called one of Trump’s “falsehoods” a lie. They have not wanted to do this before because they define a lie as requiring “intent to deceive”. But now that Michael Cohen has said that he paid off porn stars to keep quiet at Trump’s request, The Washington Post can definitely say that Trump’s denials of this are lies. Read more here.

Most recently, Trump’s tactics seemed to come straight from George Orwell’s 1984 when he stated in a speech on July 24, 2018: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Esquire’s Jack Holmes explains the dangerous turn with this pernicious statement: “Lies that are not merely lies, but instead serve to destroy the very concept of truth, are a cornerstone of any authoritarian playbook.”

What is going on here?

In a word: gaslighting.

Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality. It is a tactic used for gaining power and control. The term gets its name from a 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman in which her husband would secretly dim the gaslight, but when she commented on it, he insisted she must be crazy. And he convinced others she was insane as well. Thus, gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a person or group of people.

Continue reading Living the Truth in an Age of Lies

“It might not look like it, but the Resistance is winning”: An excerpt from “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans

One of my favourite Christian commentators and authors is Rachel Held Evans. Her latest book, “Inspired” has just been launched, and it looks fantastic (it’s on my reading list for the holidays). Today, on her blog, she provides an extended extract from the book, and it’s amazing. Read it in full here, or my extract of her extract below. And buy the book!

In light of recent news, it seems appropriate to share this excerpt from Chapter 5, “Resistance Stories,” in Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again:

The Bible teems with monsters.

From the sea dragon Leviathan, with its fearful scales and claws, to the rumbling Behemoth with brasslike bones and cedar-strong tail, to the mysterious giant fish of the Mediterranean Sea that swallowed Jonah whole, the creatures of our holy text practically roar and fulminate from the page.

In a vision, Daniel encountered four great beasts — one like a lion with eagle’s wings, one like a bear with three ribs in its mouth, another like a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a fourth with iron teeth, bronze claws, and ten horns (Daniel 7). The book of Revelation combines these images into a description of a single monster rising from the sea, resembling a leopard, lion, and bear, with “seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns” (Revelation 13:1 kjv). The beast is joined by a fearsome consort, a fiery-red dragon, whose tail thrashes so widely it sweeps a third of the stars from the sky.

Biblical beasts can represent several things—the awe-inspiring mystery of the natural world, the fearful chaos of the unknown, the sovereignty of God over even the most powerful forces in the universe—but in the case of the mutant creatures of Daniel and Revelation, they represent the evils of oppressive empires.

Continue reading “It might not look like it, but the Resistance is winning”: An excerpt from “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans

The Theology of Star Wars

It’s been a hectic year in my business so far in 2018, so apologies for the lack of contributions to this blog in the past few months. Hopefully I’ll be more regular here in the rest of the year.

But for now, here’s a fantastic resource from Think Christian. It’s a compilation of insights from some top theologians and commentators on pop culture, “A Theology of Star Wars”. A great resource for youth groups, home groups and anyone who understands the difference between Tatooine and Jakku.

Download a copy here. The Force is strong with this one, I promise.

Christmas Eve Reflection: Seeing Mary’s Christmas

It might be because as the only male in my household I am surrounded by “women’s stuff” all day everyday and am privileged to be forced to see the world through a distinctly feminine (and deliberately feminist) lens, that on Christmas Eve each year, my thoughts often turn to Mary and what she must have been thinking and feeling at this time that very first Christmas so long ago.

She’d have been tired from a long, unnecessary journey, and a nine month pregnancy. She’d have been scared, just a teenager about to give birth for the first time surrounded by strangers. She’d have been concerned for her future, not yet in love with kind Joseph to whom she had been promised in marriage, and overwhelmed by all that had happened to her already in her short life.

On that night, she was an oppressed minority forcibly relocated to some ancestral town she knew nothing of by a dictatorial government who saw her and her kind as a problem. On that night, she was homeless. She would soon become a refugee, and witness to a massacre of children. And she would live to see her first born child killed savagely.

I don’t think Mary had “a silent, holy night” in mind.

And, yet, we know that she knew. This child that was to be born was no ordinary child. Her child would not live an ordinary life. He would change the world, and history, forever. That night, she knew – before anyone else did – that the Saviour was coming.

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. I have grown to love it more as I have witnessed it through the excitement of my own children. But I’m not convinced that the message of that first Christmas is being adequately embodied in our world today – especially to those people who are precisely like Mary: pregnant teenagers, scared women, brown-skinned poor people, refugees, those in countries that oppress their citizens or have been invaded by a hostile force, the homeless and those who wonder where their next meal will come from. What does it mean to them that the Saviour has come?

Mary’s story is as important as Jesus’ at Christmas. Christmas Eve is my moment to see the greatest story ever told through the eyes of Mary, the Mother of God.

Richard Rohr’s reflection on White Privilege

I receive Richard Rohr’s daily meditations by email. A month ago, he posted one that was remarkable in its insights and writing. Read it at his site, or an extract below.

The Invisible Character of White Privilege

by Fr. Richard Rohr, 17 Nov 2017

If we are going to talk about God as me, we must also talk about God as thee too! For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment just because of the color of our skin. This “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true?

Continue reading Richard Rohr’s reflection on White Privilege

Before you sign the Nashville Statement on Sexuality… just two small things

To all my dear Conservative, Evangelical Christian friends,

Before you sign the recently released Nashville Statement on Sexuality, please consider just two things.

Firstly, please consider that the very first sentence of this Statement is going to cause deep hurt and harm in your congregation: “God has created marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union…”. I know you and I don’t agree – I am in favour of covenant, lifelong, monogamous, faithful same sex marriage, and you are not. But leave that disagreement aside for now. I am sure that we are both in agreement that (1) marriage is not a necessary institution (in other words, people can choose to marry or not and it does not impact their “God-image-bearing” nor their status in the church), and (2) procreation is not a necessary condition of marriage (in other words, people who can choose to have children or not can choose not to have children if they want to, without impacting on the value or fullness of their marriage nor their status in the church).

Continue reading Before you sign the Nashville Statement on Sexuality… just two small things

Chris Kratzer: Maybe, Just Maybe, If You’d Stop Quoting The Bible At Me

I am glad I have found Chris Kratzer’s blog. I like the way he writes, and I like the way he thinks. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says – but then, I doubt he does either. But I like how he gets me to think.

His latest blog is about people who think they’re “engaging” with you by quoting the Bible. I think he’s spot on in his analysis of these people who are all over my social media feed. His conclusions is worth its weight in gold: “When Jesus referenced the Bible, He did so primarily to reframe it and reinterpret it through the lens of Grace, love, and Himself.” Ha.

The only thing I would add to Chris’s excellent article is that when someone throws a Bible verse at me, I quickly whip out my Bible and go back about 10 verses and start reading. I read through the verse they’ve just quoted at me, and read to the end of the next section of the Bible. Without even resorting to Greek or Hebrew or any attempt to look at the interpretation, almost always – with unfailing regularity – the point the person was trying to make by quoting an out-of-context verse can be refuted, repudiated or just scoffed by doing this. It really is one of my favourite things to do. It’s possibly slightly childish, and maybe not entirely helpful, but it proves the points Chris’s blog makes.

Read it and subscribe to Chris’s blog here, or read an extended extract below:
Continue reading Chris Kratzer: Maybe, Just Maybe, If You’d Stop Quoting The Bible At Me

Seven evils of (White) Evangelical Christianity

The term “Evangelical” has been hijacked by white Americans. It’s a dangerous stereotype, but they’re mainly Trump supporters and would sacrifice almost anything to ensure they ban abortion in America. They’re nationalistic, racist and homophobic.

This isn’t the textbook theological definition, of course. Evangelicals are supposed to be defined as people who take the Bible seriously (the more Reformed amongst them would insist we take it literally and that it is inerrant), who are evangelist in their worldview (they are intent on spreading the Gospel), and believe that personal salvation is available through Jesus’ redeeming death on the Cross.

I grew up as an Evangelical. And, in as much as I believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that the Bible is a true witness to Him, I would like to continue to think of myself as an Evangelical. But I can no longer remain silent about the dangers of Evangelicalism. In fact, I agree with an article written by Chris Kratzer this past week, in response to evangelical Christians continuing to support Donald Trump after he failed to condemn neo-Nazis in Charlottesville – he called Evangelicalism evil. Well, at least seven of the things White Evangelical Americans believe.

You can read his full article, with details on each, at his blog. I highly recommend you do. Here’s the summary of the seven evils:
Continue reading Seven evils of (White) Evangelical Christianity

Thoughts on Eugene Peterson’s change of change of mind

On 6 July, Jonathan Merritt, a journalist at Religion News Service had a 33 minute telephone interview with Eugene Peterson, pastor, theologian and author of many best-selling books including a translation of the Bible, “The Message”. The interview was about a number of topics, including Peterson’s views on megachurches and Donald Trump, his ministry, why he is leaving public life and whether he is scare of death. The interview resulted in a three part series published at RNS (see here, here and here).

The final article of the series covered two questions that were asked at the end of the interview. In Merritt’s own words, here is what was said:

Continue reading Thoughts on Eugene Peterson’s change of change of mind